Lesson 2: Fundamental Concepts of Environmental Geology

Earth seen from Apollo XVIThis week we'll explore five overarching concepts—from population growth and geologic hazards to sustainability and the unity of environmental systems—that Keller suggests provide a framework for understanding how humans interact with Earth (as seen, at right, by the crew of Apollo XVI). Because these are very broad concepts I would like you to think carefully about how you might apply them to understand different aspects of a specific problem. For example, the availability of fresh water is likely to become a critical issue here in California during the coming decades. How the state's citizens address this issue will depend on population growth, how the timing and amount of precipitation shift in response to global climate change, how we use and recycle water to make existing supplies sustainable, and so on. Just this one problem touches on all the key concepts Keller discusses, and in the future it will be our ability to analyze such problems holistically that will give us the best chance of making critical societal changes.

In addition to introducing the five overarching concepts mentioned above, Keller uses this first chapter to "slip in" discussions of a number of other related ideas—from geologic time to the precautionary principle—that will inform topics we'll study later. Of these "secondary" topics I would like you to pay particular attention: exponential change, which enables us to understand both population growth and geologic dating; and the scientific method, which provides a framework for developing and testing objective models of how nature operates.

Weekly Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of this week's lesson, a student is expected to be able to:

Reading and Browsing Assignment

Exercise 2: Radiometric Dating (Due by 9:00 AM on 29-Aug-2011)

In this week's lesson you have learned how exponential change can be used to model the growth of human populations and the decay of radioactive elements. This week's exercise will help you learn more about how radioactive decay is used to date geologic events so that we can reconstruct Earth's history (p. 9-12) and estimate the rates of geologic processes (p. 32).

Quiz 2: Concepts of Environmental Geology (Due by 9:00 AM on 29-Aug-2011.)

Complete Quiz 2 in the ETUDES under the "Assignments, Tasks and Tests" tool. There are ten questions, each worth one point. If you can answer all of them correctly it means that you've got a pretty good handle on the concepts that will frame our study of environmental geology this semester, and are ready to start learning about plate tectonics next week. Note that like all of our weekly quizzes, this one is timed (you have 30 minutes) and must be completed in one "sitting" (that is, you will only be granted access once.) So, be sure you're ready to complete your quiz when you start it. Good luck, and don't forget to use Firefox.